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Nurturing Creativity

Nov
29
2007

If you’ve spent much time as a stay-at-home mom, there’s a line you’ve heard when you discuss what you do with your days. “It’s the most important job there is,” someone, usually without kids, will say at some point; sometimes it’s after telling them what you do in a way that you think didn’t sound pathetically in need of validation, but who knows.
How this line is meant runs the gamut from the kindly earnest to the frankly condescending. Whether you buy it or not, it’s a bit too abstract to provide any comfort when you’re on your 15th diaper change of the day, the poopie one that baby’s just managed to smoosh into with her kicking foot.
But for a parent, stay-at-home or not, or for anyone thinking about the broader meaning of the parent-child relationship, one researcher offers an interesting theory to consider. Ellen Dissanayake argues that the unconsciously ritualized mother-baby interactions – the motherese speech, the back-and-forth games, the laughing together – are the wellspring of artistic creation, recreated in much of adult artistic works.
Dissanayake has found similar mother-baby interactions in different cultures (this article on her work doesn’t mention studies of fathers, although much of it must translate). “‘These operations of ritualization, these affiliative signals between mother and infant, are aesthetic operations, too,’ she said in an interview. ‘And aesthetic operations are what artists do. Knowingly or not, when you are choreographing a dance or composing a piece of music, you are formalizing, exaggerating, repeating, manipulating expectation and dynamically varying your theme.’”
So there you go. The hand that rocks the cradle helped write Ode to Joy.
This is a fascinating idea to consider as you’re cooing at the baby: Art’s forms spring from the infant relationship. Dissanayake also posits, along with others, that artistic enterprises serve to unite and mobilize the group, and were useful evolutionarily in that way.
So then, is grown-up art really continuing an unrecognized conversation with our parents? Certainly artists and critics – and therapists – can point to childhood influences in painting and music and writing, but perhaps it’s even more basic than that, continuing these dialogues we had as babies. And is that part of the pleasure we feel in creating things – it’s a return to cozy baby moments that were, or should have been? It’s something to think about next time you’re playing peek-a-boo.

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 10:31 PM | Permalink

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